Judge sentences 87-year-old man to probation

Published 9:32 pm Monday, June 21, 2010

Calling it one of the toughest decisions he has made since becoming a judge in 2008, Freeborn County District Court Judge Steve Schwab on Monday sentenced 87-year-old Marvin William Steinhauer to probation in connection to the death of a motorcyclist in May of 2009.

He won’t have to serve prison time unless he violates his probation.

The decision came after Steinhauer pleaded guilty in March to one count of criminal vehicular homicide as part of a plea agreement between his lawyer, Samuel McCloud, and the Freeborn County Attorney’s Office.

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Steinhauer — who was originally charged with three counts of

criminal vehicular homicide and two counts of drunken driving — drove through a stop sign on May 29, 2009, at the intersection of Freeborn County roads 46 and 14.

As a result, motorcyclist Jose Ignacio Martinez, 48, of Blue Earth, crashed into Steinhauer’s car and later died.

Records state Steinhauer’s blood-alcohol content was .08 at the time and that three witnesses interviewed by authorities said they saw Steinhauer drive through the stop sign at the intersection at approximately 55 mph.

Besides his blood-alcohol content, Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson said Steinhauer’s other physical infirmities played some role in the collision as well.

Nelson said Steinhauer has cancer that is spreading, and he is constantly receiving medication for this problem. His vision is gone in one eye, and his hearing is greatly impaired. Steinhauer is also having problems with his memory and being questioned — factors that may have had an effect on his judgment while driving, the county attorney noted.

In court Monday, Steinhauer walked slowly with a cane.

“We can anticipate that Mr. Steinhauer’s days are numbered,” Nelson said.

The county attorney noted that while there is no question that Steinhauer caused Martinez’s death, he thinks some of the man’s other physical impairments may have also contributed.

At least a dozen of Martinez’s family listened to the proceedings from the audience, and four shared their memories and feelings of sadness they experienced since losing Martinez. These statements came during a portion set aside for victim’s impact statements.

“There are no words to explain the sorrow and loneliness,” Martinez’s daughter, Jenifer Martinez, read from a statement written by her mother.

She said her family can talk over and over again about how much they miss Martinez, but they can’t explain the loss they feel inside.

“My kids, adult or young, they still need their dad’s wisdom,” the daughter said for her mother.

Fifteen-year-old Josselyn Martinez said though her father was a victim of a crime, he was much more than that to her.

She said she sometimes cries herself to sleep thinking maybe her father will come back; sometimes she even writes letters to him even though she knows he won’t be able to write back.

She added that she doesn’t think it seems fair that someone so close to God and his family could be taken so young.

“He’s not going to see me grow up into something he can be proud of,” the 15-year-old said.

Isaias Walker, one of Martinez’s nephews, described his uncle as being the joy of the family.

After listening to the statements and closing recommendations from the defense and prosecution, Schwab said though he was not happy with the agreement, he would move forward with the sentence after considering Steinhauer’s age, medical stability and other physical infirmities.

Schwab sentenced Steinhauer to a 48-month stayed sentence and up to 10 years probation. “Stayed” means unless Steinhauer violates his probation, he will not have to serve prison time.

Conditions Schwab added to the sentence — that had previously not been in the plea agreement — included 365 days of electronic home monitoring with an alcohol sensor, no driving and no consumption of alcohol.

Schwab said Steinhauer will only be allowed to leave his house for medical appointments during that year span, and for the first time in Freeborn County District Court history, he required that any vehicle Steinhauer has access to be set up with an ignition interlocking system.

That means that anyone who uses those vehicles has to blow into a device, like a Breathalyzer, and test his or her alcohol breath concentration before the vehicle’s motor can be started. Schwab said he required this because of his concern about public safety.

Other elements of the sentence included reporting to his Department of Corrections agent as directed, not leaving the state without prior permission, not owning guns and submitting to DNA testing, among others.

Steinhauer must pay fines of about $4,000 and restitution of over $13,000.

McCloud said his client has never committed an intentional criminal act in his entire life. He had a criminal history score of zero prior to the sentencing.

The lawyer pointed out that Steinhauer has not used alcohol since the wreck.

Nelson indicated a civil lawsuit has been filed in the case. Look to the Tribune for further coverage of the civil lawsuit.